How many articles have been written on bait over the years? Probably enough to fill several books over! Yet, for those of us who have watched fishing develop over the last twenty years there has been an amazing swing in the way bait is written about. This change in our attitude to bait has, to a very large extent, come about because of changing market forces. First there was the in-depth pseudo-science of this or that bait ingredient, then the explosion of base mixes with all sorts of added flavours, and finally we have entered the era of the ready rolled convenience bait.

Although a very large proportion of the material that has been written has some commercial bias (usually sponsorship - and I am no different in this respect) what we have seen is the public looking for more convenient ways of getting their bait. Let's face it, when in past years I made my own baits, I had as many disasters as I had successes. I also wasted a lot of time rolling bait. Not a problem when we had a three month closed season, but now I want to be out fishing. Today we have the situation where there are a lot of good baits available, but so much hype that it is difficult to be certain which is the best for you and the waters that you are fishing.

The whole concept of nutritional baits came from Fred Wilton, yet the Kent anglers fishing with Wilton were also doing something else. They were pre-baiting quite extensively with the new baits. This, in my opinion, had as much to do with their success as with the new HNV bait they were using.

In years following this I have witnessed, and have used myself, the same technique of sustained heavy baiting to really get the fish interested in what can only be described as mediocre baits. What I should add though is that on most occasions, my bait was the only one being introduced in large quantities. If you are the only one using this technique then I am convinced that the balance of the attractors does not need to be as potent as when competing with others. So where does this leave us? Well I think the first thing we have to look at is the base mix itself. It is no good having the best combination of attractors in the world if the base is unsuitable for them.

One thing that most bait articles confuse is how fish use protein fats and carbohydrates.

In humans, carbohydrates (sugar and starch) are used as the main energy source. When there is a lot of carbohydrate in the diet, protein and fat are spared. Protein is used for building muscle and the fat is laid down, as fat can be converted to carbohydrate and burnt up as energy.

Now fish are different. Rather than using carbohydrates, fish take the more direct route of burning up fat as their energy source. The role of carbohydrate is much less understood and is generally added just as a bulking ingredient. So, in fish we are mainly concerned with offering the fish a reasonable amount of protein with enough fat to support the fish. There is also the question of how easy it is for the bait to be broken down and the quality (the biological value) of the constituents. It is not really possible for me to get into these subjects in this article, but just remember that there are a whole lot of different quality products available, some of which are much, much better than others.

The most nutritious and cost effective baits in my opinion are those which incorporate fish meal (as the main source of protein), a source of fat (normally fish oil) and a small amount of milk derived protein. It is no coincidence that this is very close to the composition of commercial fish feeds. You can get away without the milk protein, but there is good evidence that this works synergistically with the fish protein to improve the bait. Most of the successful baits available from the bait companies follow this formula, more or less. In the past, 'fishmeal' baits have been thought of as being only suitable for use in the summer months, and milk protein based baits have taken over during colder weather. Now this really does fly in the face of the nutritional value theory. Why milks should be so good in winter is still a matter for much conjecture.

So we have the fishmeal baits in the summer, and the milks in the winter. That's fine for experienced anglers who have confidence in both and know when to switch, but what about the much larger consumer market? Well, I believe that more and more bait companies are coming round to the idea of tempering the percentage of fishmeal and using a little more milk protein to give a bait which is effective all year round. This is fine, as just upping the oil content in summer is enough to keep the bait working at maximum effectiveness (by meeting the energy needs of the fish and sparing all that expensive protein) all year round.

So where does this leave us in terms of nutrition? Well, I think we are pretty close to having baits now which are balanced to the carps needs throughout the year. In recent years the leaps forward have come from the increasing availability of more nutritional versions based along the same theme. Things like low temperature fish meals have made a big difference to bait quality. More and more importance is now coming back to the quality of the attractors used to ensure that it is your bait that the fish pick up out of the plethora they are offered.

I guess the message to take home is that the hard part, the nagging doubts and the hours in the kitchen have been taken out of the equation. I for one no longer feel the need to make my own ingredients. The loads of fish meal I used to collect from various wholesalers have now been replaced by a few buckets of base mix. Long may it continue!

Next week I'll look at how to put together some baits and how to test their effectiveness.